Week 0: looking devil in the eye

This has been a tough week. The truth is, I am in debt and I have no money. I am in my first year of my freelance writing business but I have little to show for because I have been lazy.

I have been afraid of hard work, scared to not have a work-life balance to a point where I was taking too many breaks and not doing enough work. Meanwhile, my wonderful boyfriend has been supporting me by paying our rent and pretty much every time we went out to eat. That has brought on an extreme amount of shame because I am letting him down.

So, this week, as I was binging on Dave Ramsey’s videos about getting out of debt, I set up a downpayment plan for all my debt. What starred back at me from the Google Sheet was shocking. In my head, somewhere in the region of “Hopeless dreams”, I thought that I would achieve financial freedom, and be able to take care of my family’s finances as well.

Spoiler: I was a big fool.

I had months ahead of me paying down a credit card loan and decades of student loan payments. Achieving financial freedom is almost as realistic as meeting a unicorn. In addition, I was doing nothing to increase my income, grow my freelance business, and proactively get out of debt.

I realized that my dreams of financial freedom were never going to come true if I didn’t start being intentional about my financial life.

This brings me here, to this blog. Since I have zero internal motivation, this blog is now my accountability partner. It’s a place where I will have to report my progress about my freelance business, passive income journey, debt payments, and other things that I discover as time passes.

I’m going to be honest. This. Is. Freaking. Scary. I’m not the kind of person who talks about her problems. I bottle everything up and try (and fail) to solve it on my own. But writing this blog will force me to do the exact opposite.

I can’t say I look forward to all of it.
Until next week.

– M

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What is an ICO?

ICO stands for Initial Coin Offering and it’s a way to raise capital for startups that offer new cryptocurrencies. An ICO functions largely, in the same way, an IPO* but without the heavy regulations that normally surround the capital raising game. This has its pros and cons but more on that later.

What happens during an ICO?

Apart from its primary reason to raise capital, an ICO functions more like a crowdfunding project rather than an IPO. This basically means that an ICO is backed by early supporters that want to invest in a new coin and make a possible profit out of it. Unlike IPOs, this makes ICOs more accessible to the general public. The company that initiates the ICO usually publishes a white paper where they explain the basics of the project they are doing and try to convince you why it’s a good idea.

Essentially, the white paper explains what needs the coin is going to fulfill and the market it will cater to. It also includes details about the project, such as duration, capital needed for completion, how much each coin is sold for, and what type of currency is accepted as payment. The startup also set a goal for the money they want to raise, and some campaigns return the money to the backers/investors if the goal is not met. Many projects simply raise as much money as they can and some cap the investments as a certain level. Typically, an ICO accepts payments in other cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin or Ethereum.

The biggest motivation for a backer of the project is to get the new coin at a discounted price in hope that the project will succeed and the price of the coin will rise. This has been the main hype behind ICOs, especially after the initial backers of Ehtereum made some serious money on the ICO.

ICOs and security

As I mentioned before, an ICO is a deregulated way of raising capital. There are no set governmental rules for an ICO and no requirements to how the company should conduct their business afterward. Comparing to an IPO, where the company becomes public afterward and has to comply with a long list of legal rules and regulations.

There is an ongoing debate around the lack of regulations around ICO, mostly due to numerous scams in the past (just google it and you’ll see). Some praise the freedom startup get to raise capital in a much faster way. Other are not so sold on the idea that anyone can start an ICOs.

As a way to combat the insecurities around backing an ICO, a ton of website that host ICOs have popped up. They promise a screening of the ICO prior to listing them and release of the project funds once a set of pre-defined goals are met.

To back or not to back an ICO?

That seems to be the question. In the grand scheme of things, backing an ICO is like investing in any startup. All of them will tell you that their idea is going to revolutionize the way we do [INSERT ANY DAILY ACTIVITY] but there is really no way to know for sure. Unless you have a clairvoyant in your family, that is going to be the case for most investments you do.

However, the blockchain technology and the cryptocurrencies are very young still, but they have a ton of potential to actually revolutionize industries and change the way we do things. So, if you find a project that you can trust, it might be a good idea to get in on the fun. Afterall, the first supporters of companies like Apple and Microsoft probably felt the same way.

 


*An Initial Public Offering (IPO) is a term describing the first time a company is selling their stocks on the public market. Typically, this is the most common way to raise capital.

What you can learn from Arianna Huffington

what-you-can-learn-from-Arianna-Huffington

In her book “Thrive” Arianna not only asks the question “What is a good life?”, but she also does a pretty good job at answering it. Her personal experience with stress-related health issues and background as a journalist makes her a credible source of information. I think she brings in the right kind of balance between scientific research and her own opinions and experiences to support the answer to a good and balanced life.

If you are not much of a reader or you simply don’t have time to read, but still want to reap the benefits of Arianna’s wisdom, this blog post is a useful summary.  I hope you find it helpful.

How NOT to thrive in life

After finishing the book, I think Arianna just spent 342 pages saying “Get off you god damn phone”. Don’t get me wrong. I think it was done well and (almost) every page was necessary to convey that message.

She does a phenomenal job at addressing how fast our world has become and how it essentially puts stress on our well-being, health, relationships, and perception of our surroundings. In the four sections of the book, well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving, Arianna keeps coming back to the same point: we are too connected, too wired up to the virtual world, both during work and leisure time.

We are losing sleep because of the light of our screens. At work, we are under more stress than ever because we are always just a swipe away from answering an email or taking a call, and that is expected of us. When we spend time with friends, family or our partners, we are losing out on important moments of connection because our eyes are paying attention to a screen rather than our loved one’s eyes.

Essentially, we are told that we are more connected than ever, yet real life connections are becoming increasingly difficult for many, and this has an effect on our quality of life.

How to thrive in life

This is not news. We know all of those things, and yet little is done to make a change. I think this is why people like Arianna are able to write those books and sell them – humans simply need to be told something many times before it registers for good.

So. Let’s come back to the main question of this blog post: how do you actually live a good life?

You disconnect.

Simply put down your phone, shut down your computer, hug your partner, visit your family, go for a walk outside, read an actual book, go for a swim, volunteer in you local animal shelter.

The list goes on. The answer to getting your life back is simple, but also hard, because after so much time on our phones and computers our brains are like addicts – they just want more of what is good. The purpose of books like Arianna’s “Thrive” is to give us some tools we can use on the long and hard recovering from connectivity addiction.

So, pick one offline activity or pick many. The choice is yours. Just don’t Instagram it while you are doing it.

3 unconventional books to read this summer

Typically, people pick up light books to read when they go for holidays, and it’s pretty understandable. They want to relax and let their brain get a break from the hassle and seriousness of the everyday life, and that is what every summer reading guide seems to cater to. I get it. Give people what they want.

Sometimes I also want some light read that will make me smile and laugh, but I’ll most likely forget the whole plot the minute I turn the last page. But a vacation can be a great time to read those heavier books exactly because there is nothing your brain needs to think about. So today, I want to break that pattern a little bit and suggest 3 books that will not only bring you a ton of entertainment but also leave your brain with enough food for thought for the rest of the year.

Let’s dive into the recommendations:

“A Handmaid’s Tale” by Margeret Atwood

Handmaids tale coverThis book is getting a lot of attention these days because of the HBO adaptation. The series is incredibly good, but reading the book is an experience of its own.

In short, this is a dystopian novel set sometime in the future where fertility among men and women has drastically gone down. Blaming the modern development of the society, a religious group seizes the control of present day the USA and forms a new state called Gilead.  The group reinstates a more old-fashioned and religious way of living where women have lost all rights (work, own property, read etc) and the few remaining fertile women are forced to be Handmaids who are basically surrogates for the wealthy.

The only purpose of a Handmaid is to bear children. Every month they are forced to have sex with the man of the family they belong to until they get pregnant. Once they do, the family keeps the baby, and the Handmaid is relocated to the next family to do it all over again.

The story is told through the eyes of one of those Handmaids, Offred. Throughout the book, you also get to see how this society came to be, and how people let this happen. It’s a quiet incredible read because as a reader you can’t quite believe that anyone would allow such horrible way of living to be forced on anybody. You sit there and think: “Surely if this happened in my country I would have done something!”. But the brilliant point of this book is that this was the thinking of the characters in the book too. And yet, it happened.

 

“Forgive me, Leonard Peacock” by Matthew Quick

This book is one long goodbye letter written by a sad and confused kid, Leonard, as he isForgive me cover preparing to take his own life. Whoa, you might think, reading about suicide isn’t exactly a way to relax, but believe me when I tell you that this book is as much about death and sadness as I am Princess Diana.

We follow Leonard for a full day, as he is visiting the people who are dear to him so he can say goodbye to them. At times his thoughts are incredibly heartbreaking (I cried several times while reading it), but they are also deeply profound, funny and surprisingly positive. It depicts how lonely being a human can be, how difficult it is not to be like everybody else, and how people you least expect to care about you might be who you need to be around.

It’s difficult to talk about this book without spoiling too much, so I’m going to stop here. It’s best to go into this book knowing as little as possible. Matthew Quick’s writing style is phenomenal. His ability to say so much with so little words amazes me and makes this book much more impactful. It’ll leave you satisfied, yet hungry for more.

 

“Night Film” by Marisha Pessl

Night film coverLovers of mystery thrillers and film noir – this book is for you. In addition to an amazing story line, the book features visual effects such as newspaper clippings, photographs, and website screenshots, which bring the reading experience to a totally different level. The visual aids add to the book’s dark mood and help you dive deeper into the world Marisha Pessl has created.

The plot revolves around Stanislav Cordova*, a famous and mysterious filmmaker, who has been making strange films about the ugly and dark parts of society, revealing the worst sides of humanity. Thanks to that, Cordova gained quite a following before disappearing both from the public and the movie scene. Now his name appears again in the papers, this time relating to the death of his daughter Ashely Cordova.

Ashley’s death is quickly ruled out as a suicide, but that explanation does not sit right with a journalist named Scott McGrath. At this point you might think that this story is set up to be a classic murder mystery where a curious journalist solves the case, exposing Stanislav Cordova for what he truly is – a murder. That could not be further from the truth.

Scott’s relationship with the Cordova family is quite complicated. After failing to expose Stanislav Cordova in the past, Scott got fired from his job as a journalist and he didn’t take it well. Thirst for revenge and a wish to gain his reputation back drives Scott to pursue the case of Ashley Cordova’s death. His investigation takes him to strange places and forces him to team up with strange people, which makes for an interesting and unique ride for the reader.

Scott McGrath is also a very flawed character, which compliments the dark and mysterious mood of the book. You can’t always trust what Scott is thinking, seeing or saying because he is never far away from thinking about his next drink. And this gets heavily in the way of you trying to solve the murder of Ashley and making sense of the story of Stanislav Cordova.

So, here is my list. Three unconventional reads to bring on vacation this summer. These books are something you definitely won’t forget right away and would want to keep on your bookshelf to reread over and over again.

 

Happy reading!
– Maria

 


* Being originally from Russia, I just have to rant a little about the use of this surname. In Russian, female surnames (family names) end in -a while male names end in -v. Thus, Stanislav, being a man cannot be named Cordova but should be named Cordov. I know in the Western countries this is not practiced and therefore this kind of mistake is made often, but it just bugged me a little while reading and ruined the experience a bit.